by Christopher Gordon
Casey Keating is a dedicated volunteer who is enthusiastic about her community, host family, and volunteer service projects. She has continued the work of CII-3 volunteer Taylor Ramsey by working alongside the Wiwa community in both English and community projects. She has volunteered in a number of camps, and is always there to lend an ear, a helping hand, or offer up a much-appreciated dessert she recently baked. Although the idea the of a volunteer spotlight is to share some of the amazing work that volunteers are doing at site, please know that no amount of words can describe all of the amazing things Casey has accomplished and will accomplish in her remaining months here in Colombia. She does so much. We appreciate all of her hard work, and I hope this offers a little insight into her time here as a volunteer.
Where in the states in are you from?
I am from Pennsylvania, though I have also lived in California, Virginia, Alabama, and North Dakota.
What did you study in college?
I studied World Language Education and Spanish at Pennsylvania State University.
What led you to Peace Corps?
I remember having a conversation with my parents when I was 13 years old about giving back. I told them I wanted to serve my country, but that I wasn’t sure the path they took, becoming a military officer, was the right path for me. One of them commented casually that there were lots of other ways to serve my country, like Peace Corps. The rest is history. I have known since then that I wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer and my resolve strengthened with time and research.
Where are you working?
IED Edgardo Vives Campo in Santa Marta, Magdalena.
What are your primary and secondary projects?
Primary: Last year, I taught alongside a number of teachers in grades 1 through 3, plus one in 5th grade. This year, I work mostly with the orientador escolar (school counselor) on a number of projects. I give teacher trainings whenever there’s a teacher workday. I’m in the middle of teaching Allison Bakamjian’s (CII-4) English class for primary and non-English teachers. I have also given English classes at Wiwa Tour and helped with two YMCA Colombia English immersion camps.
Secondary: I am working with Wiwa Tour and Fundación Ribunduna to get a bridge built in Gotsezhi, so all of the students served by the village’s school can attend classes year-round, even in the rainy season, when the river is high. I’m a co-director of this year’s Camp GLOW and I was the photographer for Camp HERO last year. My counterpart and I led discussions in 7th grade classes on sexualidad y salud and we are planning Santa Marta’s Primer Encuentro Distrital de Estudiantes Indígenas. It’s a one-day conference and will be held at our school, welcoming indigenous students from the whole city. I am also part of the Peer Support Network and on the WIDGAD committee.
What has been your biggest accomplishment and your biggest challenge in Peace Corps?
My biggest accomplishments during service have been the camps in which I have participated. They also represent my favorite projects and some of the days I will remember most happily. These experiences are a representation of how much I have grown, what I can do when I reach my full potential, and how much of a difference I can make in young people’s lives.
My biggest challenge at site was integration and getting started with projects. I tried planning with teachers and that sort of worked, but primary teachers do not have a lot of time. I helped start an environmental club and a girls’ empowerment group, until my counterparts were moved to another school before our first meeting. I really got started about nine months into my service, which might be a record for a late start. Walking into school my second year, though, was amazing. It was like everyone suddenly noticed I was there and now I have lots of projects.
What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?
I have a wonderful host family, which includes my host mom and dad, Eli and Gustavo, and my brother and sister, Iván and Lili. What is unusual (and awesome) is that my sister, Li Saumet, is the singer from Bomba Estéreo.
Can you discuss your involvement in working with the Wiwa? What led to your relationship with them?
Taylor Ramsey introduced me to her counterparts at Wiwa Tour before she left for the US and gave me a few ideas to start working with them. Getting to know them took some time, but eventually, I started giving English classes and now I am working on the bridge project. I hope to do more projects with them in the future, building upon what Taylor did and linking her service to the service of future volunteers.
What recommendations do you have for Vegetarian PCVs?
Fruits and vegetables here are inexpensive and delicious. You can be creative even with the produce you find at your local tienda. Take a tip from Alex and Caleb Reed (our CII-6 friends on the Islas del Rosario) and stock up on a lot of spices and sauces for flavoring. If you need ideas for protein, ask Christopher, since I am pretty sure he knows every vegan source of protein under the Sun. You can check out Stephanie’s (CII-5) Facebook page, La Conejita Colombiana, for vegan recipe ideas.
What’s your favorite thing about living on the coast and your least favorite?
My favorite is the people. Almost everyone is so creative, open, and happy. Colombian creativity never ceases to amaze me. For example, students come to school with a robotic arm they made using a few syringes, popsicle sticks, and water. Everyone seems to be always dancing, singing, and blasting music from giant speakers – any excuse for a party and to just be happy.
My least favorite part is the piropos and unwanted attention, an unfortunate side effect of just being a woman I guess. I would even tolerate the heat if men would please just dejarme en paz.